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Saturday, June 24, 2017

The 1964 Debut Album of Simon and Garfunkel

In a previous article, titled The American Folk Music Revival, I wrote that Baby Houseman and her fellow students at Mount Holyoke College listened all the time to folk music -- not to the rhythm-and-blues and other such music in Dirty Dancing.

In 1963, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were 22-year-old college students. Both were profoundly affected by the assassination of President John Kennedy on November 22, 1963.

About nine months later, in October 1964, their first album -- Wednesday Morning, 3 a.m. -- was released. At that time, they were influenced mostly by folk and gospel music. In another blog, I have written an essay about that album and in particular about The Meaning of the Song "Sounds of Silence". You can click that link to read it.

The first album of Simon and Garfunkel,
issued in October 1964
Here is the middle part of that article:
Paul Simon was born in 1941 into an observant Jewish family. Especially his mother was rather strict about adhering to Jewish teachings and customs. Paul grew up in a solidly Jewish neighborhood in Queens, New York. He once remarked that during the first part of his boyhood he thought that everyone in America was Jewish. (I obtained this information mostly from Laura Jackson's biography Paul Simon.)

Paul's father was a professional musician, and Paul too decided to become a professional musician while he still was a boy. When he was 14 years old, in about 1955, he began to write music and lyrics ambitiously. From that young age he committed himself to developing a career in the music business. He, accompanied by his friend Art Garfunkel, made his first record when he was 16 years old, in 1957. The song, titled "Hey, Schoolgirl," reached the 49th position in the popularity charts.

Pressured by his family to attend college, Paul enrolled in Queens College and majored in English literature. He studied poetry in an intelligent manner and began to write lyrics that were far more intellectual than "Hey, Schoolgirl".

During Simon's college years, many Jewish-Americans of college age became involved actively in the Civil Rights movement for African-Americans. Jewish-Americans had been affected by the mass murders of Jews in Europe during World War Two, less than 20 years previously, and Jewish-Americans felt that they too, like African-Americans, were a second-class minority in the United States.

While attending Queens College, Paul Simon was a classmate and personal friend of Andrew Goodman, who became an active participant in the Civil Rights movement. After graduating from Queens, in the summer of 1964, Goodman was murdered in Mississippi while helping African-Americans register to vote. (Garfunkel did not attend Queens College, but he too knew Goodman.)

Already before Goodman was murdered, Simon had become impressed positively by the inspirational and effective role that Christian churches played among African-Americans in the Civil Rights movement. As a musician, Simon was influenced in particular by the role that Gospel music played.

Furthermore, Simon obviously was impressed positively by the Christian religion itself. He apparently perceived it to be much more dynamic and universal than his own Jewish religion, which seemed stagnant and isolated. His infatuation with Christian ideas and music probably was to some extent also an act of adolescent rebellion, a means to antagonize and to declare his independence from his Jewish parents and neighbors.


During Simon's senior year of college, President John Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963. During the following weeks he began to write the song that became "The Sounds of Silence." He essentially finished the song in February 1964, and then he and Garfunkel recorded it in a studio on March 17, 1964, near the end of his senior year.

As I will argue below, the song describes God's difficulties in communicating through His prophets to human beings. The prophets are not recognized by humans, who reject real prophets and instead turn to false prophets. God therefore must use various clever methods of communicating through his real prophets.

Simon did not think that President Kennedy was such a prophet. Rather, Simon apparently felt that the assassination aggravated an already existing crisis of humanity. The aggravated crisis made it even more urgent that humanity try to recognize and heed real prophets of God in order to be saved.

After graduating, Simon moved (alone, without Garfunkel) to England, where he spent the summer of 1964. During that summer he lived platonically with a woman named Judith Piepe, who was a European Jew who had converted to Christianity and become a full-time social worker for her church. This relationship is additional evidence indicating that Simon himself had drifted from the Jewish religion far into the Christian religion during this period of his life.


It was during this same summer of 1964 -- on June 21,1964, that Simon's friend Goodman was murdered in Mississippi by the Ku Klux Klan while participating in the Civil Rights movement.

It seems to me that the news of this murder prompted both Simon and Garfunkel to re-affirm their own Jewish identities. Until then, they had performed and recorded as musicians with non-Jewish names. They had called themselves Paul Kane and Artie Garr, because they felt their real Jewish family names might be less marketable. When their first album, Wednesday Morning, 3 AM, was issued on October 19, 1964, the duo had decided to identify themselves for the first time and forever afterwards by their real, Jewish names -- Simon and Garfunkel.
Although the duo identified themselves now by their real Jewish names, the album as a whole was saturated with Christian songs and themes. Probably most of the two young singers' Jewish families and friends were appalled by the album's contents.

Most of the songs in this album revolved around Paul Simon's thinking that the Earth's population was approaching a mortal crisis but that God still would save those people who would listen to the warnings of contemporary prophets. Jesus Christ had been an example of such a prophet who had not been heeded in his own time but who nevertheless still did and would bring salvation to those people who did or would heed him.

That theme, expressed variously in most of the album's songs, is the context for understanding the song "Sounds of Silence", which is the album's central song -- the sixth of the album's twelve songs. Before I explain the one song "Sounds of Silence", I will summarize all the surrounding songs, which as a whole coherently reflect Simon's blatantly Christian attitude when he wrote that one, central, poetic song.
The entire article is much longer.

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